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SEASON OF CHANGE : Ten South Bay Prep Teams Are Being Guided by New Coaches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is difficult explain why there are so many new coaches of South Bay prep football teams this season.

Even the coaches are at a loss to explain the phenomenon.

“I’m not really sure why it all happened at once,” said Dan Robbins, first-year coach at Hawthorne High. “You can look at certain people leaving and say that made sense. But I don’t see any (similar) reason for it. It’s really a curious thing.”

But one fact is certain: It is a season of change in the South Bay. There are no less than 10 new coaches--11 when you consider there are co-coaches at Carson.

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In addition to Robbins, the new coaches are: Tom Jessee at Leuzinger, Angelo Jackson at Inglewood, Jon Dimalante at Serra, Bill Bynum at Torrance, Kerry Crabb at West Torrance, Patrick Bender at Narbonne, Bill Lysle at Mira Costa, Mike Walsh at San Pedro and Marty Blankenship and Jim D’Amore at Carson.

Among the 10 schools where changes occurred, only one came as a result of retirement. That was at Carson, where Blankenship and D’Amore replaced longtime Coach Gene Vollnogle.

Various reasons were cited for the other changes although there was a consensus that there have been more constraints on coaches in recent years including budget problems, low wages and on-the-job stress.

Although there are more coaching changes than usual this season, first-year Torrance Coach Bynum said that it is not a situation that is limited to the South Bay. In fact, there are seven new coaches in the San Fernando Valley and nine in the San Gabriel Valley.

“I think it was mostly just a natural attrition that happened to occur at the same time,” said Crabb, who was an assistant at Mater Dei of Santa Ana the past three seasons before he was hired by West Torrance in April. “But I think this is true throughout Southern California, not just in the South Bay.”

But Walsh said it is more than simply a case of natural attrition.

“My guess is that it’s getting more and more difficult to fill positions and keep (coaches) there. It’s always been that way in the L.A. Unified (School) District and I guess it’s getting that way for the Southern Section schools.”

Added Blankenship: “It’s just very demanding nowadays with all the budget cuts. It’s almost like it takes so much time and effort. If coaches just had the time to coach and not worry about fund raising and other things it would be so much easier.”

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In the case of Mira Costa’s Lysle, budgetary concerns will play a big role in how long he stays as football coach. Lysle, who has coached on and off at Mira Costa for 10 years, was named coach of the Mustangs in June after Larry Petrill resigned to accept a position as an assistant at San Jose State.

“In the last 10 years since I’ve been there, everything has been a Band-Aid solution,” Lysle said. “There’s a chance I won’t be there next year. I told them I’m only making a one-year commitment . . . Right now there’s talk of them closing Mira Costa and it’s hard to make a commitment with talk like that.”

There is also little financial incentive for new coaches.

“It’s a big effort to do it and you don’t get paid more than 2 1/2 cents an hour,” Bynum said. “It’s real strange that (these changes) would occur like that. I’m real surprised that there’s 10 of them but I think it has something to do with the overall changes in our education system.”

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Said Walsh: “It’s pretty tough to teach a full class load and teach the team like you’d like to. And you don’t get paid more than 50 cents an hour so you really have to like working with the kids.”

For some coaches who were previously at other programs, their new positions present good opportunities.

“Even though I took a pay cut, it’s super to be here,” said Jessee, who was sophomore coach at Leuzinger in 1973 and served as an assistant at Katella High of Anaheim the past six years. “It’s one of the most talented teams I’ve ever coached. I’m at a school that I like and a program that I like and I feel real good about it.”

Jackson is also excited about coaching at Inglewood despite the fact that he coached a successful program the past three seasons at St. Monica in Santa Monica, where his teams were a cumulative 27-9.

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“For me, I just felt that I wanted a change,” Jackson said. “I was going to take the job as running backs coach at (the University of) New Mexico but when that didn’t come through the Inglewood job opened in June and I’m happy to be here.”

Coaches who were promoted from within their programs are Hawthorne’s Robbins, Serra’s Dimalante, San Pedro’s Walsh and Blankenship and D’Amore at Carson.

For Robbins, the opportunity to coach at Hawthorne after being an assistant at the school for the past six years was a dream come true.

“Without question, this is something I was pointing toward,” he said. “I really love the kids that are here. It’s a racially mixed group and they just get along fantastic. I see myself here no fewer than seven years and I love teaching here too.”

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Blankenship is also thankful to have the opportunity to be co-coach at Carson and hopes to stay awhile if problems such as budget constraints do not become too great a distraction.

“I’m 42 years old and I’ve been coaching for 18 years and I feel like I’m 60,” he said. “It’s hard to have to scrap and claw for everything you get. But you have to like working with the coaches and the kids and there is just something special about the kids and the coaches at Carson. I’d like to stay here until I retire, but we’ll just see how it goes.”


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